Oral Histories

Interview of Corita Kent

Artist, designer and educator at the Immaculate Heart College.
Los Angeles Art Community: Group Portrait, Corita Kent
Los Angeles Art Community - Group Portrait
Biographical Note:
Artist, designer and educator at the Immaculate Heart College.
Galm, Bernard
Kent, Corita
Persons Present:
Tapes I and II: Kent and Galm; Tape III, Kent, Galm, Gladys Collins, Nancy Olexo, and Francine Breslin.
Place Conducted:
Tapes I and II: Mary Kent Downey's home in North Hollywood, California; Tape II: Corita Kent's gallery in North Hollywood, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Bernard Galm, Director, UCLA Oral History Program; B.A., English, St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota. Fulbright Scholar, 1957-58, Free University, Berlin, Germany. Graduate Study at Yale School of Drama and UCLA Department of Theater Arts.Galm prepared for the interview by studying biographical material supplied by the Corita Kent gallery in North Hollywood. He also viewed the gallery's large collection of her prints and other works and spoke with her sister, Mary Downey, and Gladys Collins, who together operate the gallery; they offered personal recollections of Corita and suggested possible questions for the interview.
Processing of Interview:
Editing was done by Lawrence Weschler, Assistant Editor, Oral History Program. He checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings and edited for punctuation, paragraphing, correct spelling, and verification of proper and place names. The final manuscript remains in the same order as the original taped material. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed.Corita Kent reviewed and approved the edited transcript. She made minor corrections and supplied spellings of names not previously verified.Lawrence Weschler prepared the index and other front matter. Rebecca Andrade, Oral History Program, wrote the introduction.
4 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series includes interviews with prominent Los Angeles-based visual artists and other members of the art establishment whose careers span the period from the 1920s through the 1970s. It documents the art community of the pre-World War II period and the rise of Los Angeles as a nationally recognized art center in the postwar period. Funding for this series was provided by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Birth in Fort Dodge, Iowa--Childhood in Vancouver and then Hollywood--A Catholic education--Early art interest, education and experience—Family life--Alois Schardt, a great teacher--Charles Eames--A childhood delight in words--Words in prints--Decision to become a nun--Missionary work in British Columbia--Teaching and learning (Immaculate Heart College, Chouinard, Woodbury, USC)--Sister Magdalen Mary--Travels: visiting New York galleries and collecting European folk art--Building the IHC art department--The Lord Is with Thee, first important print--The Great Men series at IHC--A lesson in serigraphy technique--Graduate work at USC--Interest in abstract expressionism--A visit with Ben Shahn.
Los Angeles art scene in the fifties--Ceremony--Mary's Days--Celebration and criticism--Organic and dead traditions--Social justice themes--Building blocks--The folk art collection--Charles Eames--Teaching teachers--Early printmaking--Working with Harry Hambly--Gathering quotations--The impasse of figurative art--From medieval models to abstract expressionism--Words as initial ways into works--Curled words--Influence of other religious art--A rejection--Mural for Vatican Pavilion, 1964 World's Fair--Other contacts with the church--Kent family reaction to art work--Influence of students--Teaching methods: sheer quantity--Emphasizing the creative over the analytical--Grading and attendance--Displays for the National Art Education Association convention.
NAEA display--Banner shows for the American Institute of Architects and the Los Angeles County Museum--Influence of the banners--Poor imitations.
Happenings--Disassociating creative from critical functions--A happening for theologians at Yale--Quality--Overcoming the false prejudice against "ugliness": tire companies--Living in Boston vs. Hollywood--Use of commercial phrases in prints--Luke 2:14,51 and In--Color--Calmer colors in recent work--Student restiveness over group projects and requirements--Intrusion of personal fame--Being an artist vs. being a teacher--Decision to stop teaching--Discouraging would-be artists--Celia Hubbard and the Botolph Group--A Boston tea party, Christmas 1969--Channeling of profits and prestige back into IHC--Administrative role in the college--Ventures into publishing: Footnotes and Headlines and the Believe-In series--Easter "tomatoes."
More on Mary as "tomato".[video] (April 20, 1976)The Corita Prints gallery--Starting the gallery--Adult education classes--Making banners--Need for a gallery--Evolution of the gallery--Frames and sizes--Jack Mullen's promotional work--Types of clients--Mary Downey's recollection of Corita as a child; family's reaction to her becoming a nun--Gallery schedules--The High Cards--Never-Again show and other exhibits--A survey of representative prints: The Lord Is with Thee; religious art of the fifties; Benedictio; I Love You Very--Words from billboards, ads--Printing on pellon--Doing prints for money-raising groups--Printmaking technique--Watercolors and paintings--Rainbow series--Using photographs--Shell writing series--Changing use of color--Work from Vietnam period.
The "Corita" signature on gallery fence--The Greatest Show of Worth (circus alphabet)--Love series--Participation in the local art scene--Decision by Immaculate Heart nuns to form a lay religious community--Rigidity of the Los Angeles hierarchy--Attitudes of the Catholic community and the IHC alumni--"A Nun Is a Woman"--The decision to leave the IH community.